In Washington, Covid relief takes back seat to aid and guns for Ukraine — Analysis
Congress was quick to agree on aid for Ukraine – which includes weapons for other US allies – but not on ending the pandemic
US federal government cannot afford to pay the Covid-19 cost for treatment of uninsured persons. In a couple of weeks, the vaccine administration to uninsured people will be ceased.
This will have devastating consequences, as the Covid-19 epidemic is still not over. It has also been very bad in the United States. A fact sheet was released by the White House on March 15 warning of the potential consequences of this funding gap.
The key concerns were: difficulty in identifying emerging variants; scaling back planned purchases of preventative treatment, damage to global vaccine and treatment efforts.
This is because the United States, one of few countries that have developed health insurance, does not offer universal coverage. As such, Covid-19 will only be available to those who are wealthy.
Starting March 28, hospitals and doctors’ offices won’t be reimbursed by the federal government for testing or treating uninsured patients for Covid-19. This means patients will be turned away if they don’t have the money in most cases unless providers decide to treat them for free or at a discount. The same goes for those who seek vaccination.
Some states will keep an emergency Medicaid option, which would provide free Covid-19 testing for uninsured people and affordable treatment. However, the problem is that less than half of US states opted into the program – and most of the states not signed on happen to also mostly be poorer ones.
The federal government declared victory against the pandemic before the funding catastrophe. The CDC lifted its mask and other guidelines and also changed its definition of what high transmission means, which now reflects the degree to which Covid-19 outbreaks are straining hospital systems – not actual community transmission.
The administration also stated that Covid-19 is no longer so deadly due to the many treatment options available and the availability of vaccines. Lack of access to these treatments immediately changes this calculus, making low household income another ‘at risk’ factor for the coronavirus.
It is a result Americans have come to expect. According to one highly cited study by the National Library of Medicine from 2008 during that era’s health care policy debate, about 26,000 Americans die every year from lack of health insurance. A second study by American Journal of Public Health in 2009 found this number to be around 45,000.
Although Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable CareAct (ACA), also called ObamaCare, may have decreased these deaths, it is likely that federal aid pulled at the worst time in a century for public health will cause this increase. There is zero doubt.
So why isn’t anyone doing anything about this? Congress is the obvious answer. On March 2, the White House asked Congress for another $22.5 billion in funding for testing, vaccines, and treatments – but it has failed to pass anything on this issue even though there have been a few attempts. The Congress seems content to pretend that the pandemic has passed and continue with their lives.
What’s also ironic about the White House’s funding request is that it also included a funding request for aid to Ukraine. The deadlocked Senate, which is split 50-50 for both parties and can’t even agree to reduce childhood poverty, the next week passed a $1.5 trillion government funding package that included $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine – but nixed a reduced $15 billion in Covid-19 relief for Americans.
Note that this aid to Ukraine is split into ‘humanitarian’ and ‘lethal’. In addition to some $3 billion of this being spent on direct funding to the US military’s European Command, it will see an additional $3 billion allocated toward providing weapons to Ukraine and other US allies in Europe.
As Politico reported March 22nd, Arms lobbyists are working together with their Pentagon counterparts to secure more funding for the military-industrial compound to produce weapons for Europe. This includes guaranteed contracts as well as a possible invocation of Defense Production Act.
Likewise, the Pentagon is expected to roll out its budget proposal in the coming days which will list a few priorities, including hypersonic missiles, to reach parity with Russia after Russia’s self-reported usage of its Kinzhal hypersonic missile system in Ukraine. Although the cost of developing, testing, and speed-tracking this weapon system is enormous, Congress has already begun to prepare for it.
Washington is a poor funding partner. Nearly 1,000 Americans are still dying from Covid-19 every day and the country’s combined death toll is nearing 1 million – but Congress doesn’t want to fund treatment and testing anymore. Congress is able to cover everything when it comes time to develop weapon delivery systems and funnel weapons to Ukraine for Russia’s great power rivalry.
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